Look down the bar from you. The lonely faces that you see. Are you sure this is where you want to be?
London, September 23 2034
Kate Austin's hideout was the top floor of a derelict apartment building in the east end of the city, at the old docks, by the river. The five floors below hers were destroyed, but the stairs that led to the top were mostly intact, safe enough if she kept close to the walls. She had no electricity for lights and lit no candles. Dust had settled in great swathes. Damp crawled up the walls. The window frames held no glass. It was cold and it was depressing, but Kate felt it suited her.
What appealed to her most was that no one knew that she lived here. No one knew that anyone lived here.
She sat on the sill of her glassless window looking at the city that lay stretched before her and smiled. From up here Kate felt like she owned it. She knew every street and every building, all the dark and narrow alleyways that ran like arteries through this once magnificent metropolis.
Closer to her home were more apartment blocks, all built in the same style as her own. All of them were stripped bare, windows smashed and looted. The streets were littered with glass, bricks and twisted metal. Burnt out cars were piled on top of each other and weeds burst through the concrete in the city's wastelands.
Kate shivered against the bite of the autumn cold, watching her breath as it turned into steam. She smiled again. She'd done a good job tonight. One of her most audacious to date. She'd broken into the city hall - an impossible task for most - and stolen an object that would be sorely missed. Because that's what Kate did… for the right price.
She hadn't always been a criminal. She'd arrived in London when she was just fourteen. Another faceless runaway in a city full of abandoned children. She'd had to learn quickly how to look after herself and it was petty crime that had kept her alive, kept her belly full. Thievery had come easy to Kate, she'd done well at it. She'd never been caught. She had her own ways of travelling around the city. She scaled walls, climbed over rooftops. She was silent and stealthy and could defend herself if she needed to.
As she grew older, she began to earn a name for herself in the city's underworld, though few knew what she looked like. Or that she was a woman. She became a became one of the city's most notorious criminals. She was able to enter the impenetrable walls of the central sector – the barbed wire compound in the heart of London where the bloated elite lived, and where they gorged themselves on the suffering of the poor. No one was able to breach those walls and evade the guards that patrolled it. She was the only one who had figured out a way in. And she was paid highly to do just that.
She despised most of her clients, but then there were very few people Kate did truly like. She stole for them: money, drugs, weapons. She spied for them, gathered information that would be used for extortion or blackmail. She grew more hardened, she became colder and she learned to trust no one but herself. No one got too close.
It was the only way to survive in a world that had gone to hell… a world where no one was innocent. But Kate wasn't thinking of all of that now. It had been a successful night, and tomorrow would be payday. She deserved a drink.
She made her way out of the docks where she lived and headed towards the slums. As she got closer, the sound of the river receded; replaced by the hum of human activity. The air became thicker with the stench of the shanty town and Kate held her breath against it. She rounded a corner onto a busy road. It was buzzing with life here, children played football on the roads, even though it was late in the night. Men and women gathered in groups around fires, warming themselves on the flames and their whisky. The food shacks were busy, the occasional cyclist, riding an old, rusted bicycle would weave in and out of the crowds, ancient bells ringing out warnings to those who got in their way. Sinister looking men hung in the shadows making deals and hatching plans.
Kate pulled her hood up over her head, scanning the streets and keeping close to the shadows. The price on her head was high. She always felt nervous around crowds, never felt safe. It was harder to pick out faces, harder to hear danger coming. She had too many enemies to let her guard down. She made her way quickly to John Locke's bar.
Locke was one of the few people Kate considered a friend, and one of the few that knew who she was, though they had barely said a few words to each other at any one time since they'd first met many years ago. He had given her a home when she'd needed one as a teenager, a gesture she would never forget. He was also the number one source of information in the city. He knew everybody's business, every deal made, every contract taken. John demanded a high price for the right information. He had helped Kate with many of her own jobs in the past, though he never asked her for money. He was also Kate's fence; buying and selling her stolen goods.
Although John made good money in his underground activities, his bar was a dive, bursting at the seams with the city's lowlifes. The putrid smell of stale beer permeated the walls and the air was thick with tobacco smoke. The ceiling sagged so low she could easily run her fingers over it as she moved across the room.
She reached Locke's bar just as it began to rain and pushed the doors open. It was quiet inside, a stark contrast from the noisy street and Kate welcomed the change. She automatically scanned the room. Three men sat around a table in a corner, hunched close together and talking quietly. On the other side of the small room an old man sat, smoking a pipe and quietly muttering to himself as he spun an empty bottle of ale on the small table beside him. Kate took a stool at the bar and ordered a beer. No John tonight, she noticed. Instead a young boy who couldn't have been older than thirteen was serving. Probably another runaway that John had taken in.
She drank some of her beer, wincing at the taste. It was warm and stale, but she swallowed down some more. She settled into the bar stool and thought about her next job. It was at the Alpert mansion in the central sector. Her client wanted a folder – an unusual request. Usually her jobs involved items of more obvious value. The mansion was heavily guarded, but Kate had been scouting the area for a few weeks now. She knew the guards movements and she knew where the moonlight cast shadows for her to hide in. She had seven more days to prepare.
As she took another sip of the foul tasting beer Kate felt an ice-cold blast of air hit her from behind as the doors to the bar were thrown open. That was the moment James Sawyer Ford walked into her life.
She heard him before she saw him. Heavy boots thudding against the oak-panelled floor, a confident stride.
He slumped into the barstool next to hers and ordered a whisky from the kid. She studied him out of the corner of her eyes. Dirty hands, bloodied at the knuckles, trembling slightly. His wet dark blonde hair a curtain obscuring his face. His sodden clothes clung to his chest. He wore a heavy coat, and a sheathed knife in his belt. Drops of rainwater fell from him, leaving small pools that darkened the wood around his boots.
As if sensing her looking at him, he turned towards her, his piercing blue eyes meeting hers. Kate almost gasped at the sudden eye contact but her face wouldn't betray her shock: it remained blank, a cold shield. Kate wouldn't admit it for a long time, but it was in that one look that she become immediately intrigued by James Ford, instantly wanted to know more about him. He felt familiar to her, though she knew she'd never laid eyes on him before. She saw something in him that echoed an unspoken feeling that had always been present inside her, though at that time, she couldn't have said what it was. Right now he was a stranger to her, and Kate was always on guard against strangers.
So she stubbornly held his gaze for a few beats, and narrowed her eyes. It was only when his eyes, that had been flashing like steel softened a fraction, that she had to look away. Hostility she could handle, anything approaching friendliness disarmed her. Her heart beating she quickly knocked back the last of her beer and got up to leave.
She felt him grab her wrist. Suddenly furious, she whirled around and fixed him with a cool glare. 'Let go now,' she said.The command had been spoken quietly, but fiercely. Her anger seemed to make him relax a little. Whatever had been making his hands shake was temporarily forgotten. He threw up his hands and shot her a wide smile. 'I was just going to offer you a drink,' he drawled back, his Southern accent betraying his roots, his eyes lazily looking her up and down appreciatively.
She rolled her eyes, then looked back at him for a few moments, suddenly paranoid. Her mind raced wondering if he knew who she was, if he had been sent to spy on her, or to hurt her.
She turned her back on him again, ignoring his offer and quickly left the bar, throwing the door open to the rain beaten night and creeping swiftly through the shadows of the city.'Great talking to you,' she heard him shout sarcastically at her retreating figure. She made her way home, her arm still warm from the grasp of his hand and her back burning from the gaze that she knew had followed her until she'd left his sight.